Here are the top five things I have learned about being an Expatriate in the UK.
Lesson #1- Why All Neighborhoods Have Their Own Pub
The Brits are brilliant. They build small, low maintenance houses, which are large enough for just your family to eat and sleep. You don’t worry about entertaining or throwing large parties, because you can’t. Instead, you walk down the street and meet your cronies at the neighborhood pub. They don’t rely on playgrounds where you meet other women, eventually inviting them to dinner, complete with 2 hours of prep work, 2 hours of clean up and a $250 tab. You just walk in, see your buddies, buy yourself a cold draft or two, and then go home when it’s time for dinner. In my neighborhood, my pub is The Chaser.
Lesson #2- How To Drive On The Wrong Side OF The RoadDriving here in the UK is not so brilliant for an American, as the left side of my car has discovered. It is the equivalent to writing with your right hand all your life, and then suddenly being told to use your left.
My first casualty was my tire, which led to the bumper, which led to the scratch down the side of my new car. It wasn’t a proud moment for Wendy McGee, but then again I was never that good with my left hand.
"Wait a minute Wendy,” said my husband. "You said you got a flat tire."
"Then, what's up with the bumper?"
"The bumper that's no longer attached....huuuuh (you know the sound when you breath in and never breath out)! Look at that large scratch!"
"What scratch? 'Whooeeh Pheeeew" I gave a good, and surprised-like whistle. "That's pretty serious" I replied. "Well, I hit a curb...and, I don't know what to say, the curb must have came out of no where and removed the bumper."
It wasn't pretty. I tried to explain that I was lucky to even get down the street, which is big enough for a Minicooper on a diet. Parking is a free-for-all. You see a spot, it doesn’t matter which side of the road it is on or which direction your car is facing, you take it.
Maybe it was time to study the train schedule.
Lesson #3- Being An Ex Pat Is Like Being In College With Kids
I love it here. Every day is a potential party. (Maybe that is why my bumper is off?) The women are awesome. There is a group called the American Women of Surrey with 500 members, all broad-minded, and fun, adventurous women. The group’s purpose is to make the transition easier for spouses. They set up groups for everything you can imagine from scrap booking, to English literature, to flower arranging, hiking, photography, bunko, biking, running and more.
The day of sign ups, I was a little kid on Christmas Day running around from booth to booth, signing myself up for as many events as possible. I ended up with English Walking Tours, which took us inside Buckingham Palace, and yes Kate’s wedding dress was far more spectacular in person than on TV. I signed up for Cooking with Shelagh where we go to Shelaghs’s large country home (yes she has to entertain) and sit in front of a fire, sipping champagne and watching her prepare a 4-course meal, which we eventually eat. I signed up for book clubs, London ventures, tennis, running, Spanish lessons and there were so many I forgot the rest.
Now when my husband asks me to go to the dry cleaners I just look at him like he is crazy because you know, I have a LOT to do. At night when we talk about our days the kids will say what did you do today mom? Initially, everyone was excited that I was making friends, now I just get the you’ve got to be kidding look.
“You know grocery shopping and the regular stuff, more beans anyone?”
Lesson #4- How To RecycleWhen I arrived I was SHOCKED when they told me that I was allowed one garbage pail for TWO WEEKS of garbage for six people. Immediately I began to panic, thinking of all the ways I could bribe the trash collectors, brownies, gifts, etc. There was NO WAY I could do it. At home, I would put out 4 trash pails filled to the brim and make fun of our German neighbors who only had one small trash can a week.
“The Dieters must be on a diet again” tee he he.
When I began recycling, I realized how much of an American polluter I was. One of my large pails is for paper and aluminum. One small bucket is for food. One bucket is for all other trash. My recycling pail is full to the brim with cans, bottles, aluminum, and clean paper. My trash after two weeks is only half full. Maybe the joke was on me?
Lesson #5- Life Is Short and The World Is BigFrom here, everyone travels. Going to Egypt or Syria, or Spain, or Morocco to Europeans is the equivalent to going to Block Island or Nantucket for New Englanders. Each part of the world is more gorgeous than the next. Flights run $50 each way to Italy or to Spain. Paris is 2 hours by train. They don’t spend money to consume, people here spend money to experience life.
The hard part is staying grounded and knowing that as much fun as this is, at the end of the school year it will come to an end. So I am living the dream, one day, one hour at a time, appreciating each step along the way until it’s time for us to pack up and go back to real life in the states.
For more adventures, visit LifeWithWendy.